Geographic Origins

The United States of America covers the mid-section of the continent of North America. It is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Canada to the north, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico to the west, and Mexico to the south. The United States of America includes Alaska in the north-western corner of North America and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.             

History of Immigration and Settlement

Three Americans were aboard the Endeavour with Captain James Cook in 1770. Midshipman Mario Mantra from New York and Second Lieutenant John Fore from Virginia were career officers in the British Navy. John Thurmond from New York had been a seaman on a sloop, the Outward Bound. He was on leave in Madeira when he was press-ganged into joining the crew of the Endeavour. Thurmond died on the voyage from the Pacific to England.  

Midshipman Mantra wrote to the British Government after the American War of Independence. He suggested that British Loyalists displaced by the war and convicts from Britain could colonise New South Wales. Many of Mantra’s ideas were included in a paper, prepared by Lord Sydney of the Colonial Office, called ‘Heads of a Plan for Effectively Disposing of Convicts, by the Establishment of a Colony in New South Wales’. This paper, which was presented to the British Government in August 1786, led to the foundation of Sydney Town two years later.     

The first Americans who arrived in South Australia were whalers and seal hunters. In 1803 Fanning and Company of New York sent Captain Isaac Pendleton and the brig Union to the south seas in search of seals. The crew of the Union hunted seals on the coast of Kangaroo Island between 1803 and 1805. They built a schooner, the Independence, on the island. However, Fanning and Company’s cargo of 74,000 seal skins never reached New York. Pendleton and some of the crew of the Union were killed by Islanders in the Pacific. The Chief Mate and the rest of the crew perished in the waters around Fiji. An unscrupulous Sydney merchant took possession of the skins. The Independence disappeared in Bass Strait shortly afterwards.

The American pioneering experience had a profound impact upon Australian colonial life. The discovery of gold in Australia can be traced back to contact between America and Australia. In 1851 two Australian prospectors returned home from the Californian goldfields. Edward Hammond Hargraves and Jim Esmond noticed the similarities between gold-bearing terrain in California and regions of Australia. They began prospecting, using skills they had learnt in America. The Australian gold rushes began after Jim Esmond discovered gold at Clunes in Victoria.

A number of Americans were lured to try their luck on the goldfields of Victoria and New South Wales. They brought tools for mining that were not available in Australia, built the first telegraph line in Australia from Port Melbourne to the city centre, established businesses such as Cobb and Company stage coaches and brought new farming methods and engineering techniques. A number of Americans settled in Adelaide after the gold rushes.

An American organisation had a significant influence on the lives of South Australian women. Jessie Ackermann, an American feminist journalist, visited Australia many times during the 1880s. She offered astute opinions on Australian politics and spoke as a representative of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in Adelaide in April 1886. Within three years there were 23 South Australian branches of the union. The social concerns and organisation of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union played a crucial role in the landmark enfranchisement of South Australian women in 1894.

An American South Australian was the first premier to be elected to lead the state after Federation in 1901. John Greeley Jenkins was born in Pennsylvania in 1851. He arrived in South Australia in 1878 and worked as a publisher’s representative and book importer. In 1886 he began working as an auctioneer. The following year Jenkins was elected to the seat of Sturt in the South Australian House of Assembly. He served as South Australian Premier between 1901 and 1905. Jenkins died in London in 1923.

King O’Malley was another American South Australian who became prominent in politics. He was born in North America in 1856 and immigrated to Australia in 1889. He initially worked as a labourer, then as an insurance agent. In 1896 O’Malley was elected to the House of Assembly as the Member for Encounter Bay. He was a member of the House of Representatives in the first Australian Federal Parliament. O’Malley played a major part in establishing Australia’s capital city. He launched the international competition for a design for Canberra that was won by Walter Burley Griffin, an American who had been in partnership with Frank Lloyd Wright. King O’Malley laid one of Canberra’s foundation stones. He left federal politics in 1916 and died in 1953.

A number of Americans settled in South Australia in the post-war years. A considerable proportion of initial immigrants were ex-servicemen.

It is difficult to pinpoint the reasons why Americans have settled in Australia in recent years. Some have become permanent residents after planning to live in Australia temporarily, or after coming to Australia on short-term employment exchange programs. Others have immigrated in search of a less pressured lifestyle. American South Australians are employed in a wide range of occupations. They have settled mainly throughout the metropolitan area. >

Community Activities

The Australian–American Association in South Australia had its origins in the Australian–American Co-operative Movement, which was founded by Sir Henry Braddon in Sydney in 1936. The movement aimed to promote world peace through friendship between the British Empire and the United States of America.

The South Australian branch of the Australian–American Co-operative Movement was founded by William Queale and Grenfell Price at a meeting at the Adelaide Town Hall in March 1941. The South Australian movement assisted and entertained American servicemen who passed through the state after December 1941 when the Second World War spread to the Pacific region.

In 1944 the state branches of the Australian American Co-operative Movement established a federal council. The organisation changed its name to the Australian-American Association in 1947.

The Australian–American Association in South Australia continues to promote political, cultural, social and commercial relations between the two countries. It welcomes American immigrants and entertains visiting dignitaries, sports people and academics.

A Council, made up of members elected at the Annual General Meeting, meets on the second Thursday of each month (except January) and has the responsibility of guiding and overseeing the operations of the Association in South Australia. This includes raising funds for the association and its projects (eg the sponsorship of exchange students, the promotion of sister city relations with Austin, Texas, and support for various charities).

Regular fundraising events and celebrations are organised for the major Australian and American national days: Australia Day, Coral Sea Week, American Independence Day and Thanksgiving are the main occasions on the association’s calendar.

Australia Day is on 26 January and the association usually celebrates it with a dinner or barbecue.

Coral Sea Week is between 4 - 8 May. It marks the anniversary of the 1942 battle in which American forces repulsed a threatened Japanese invasion of Australia. During Coral Sea Week representatives of the association lay wreaths at the War Memorial on North Terrace, Adelaide, and hold social gatherings.

American Independence Day is on 4 July. On this day in 1776 the American colonists declared their autonomy from Great Britain. The day is usually celebrated with a dinner or social gathering of some kind.

Thanksgiving is celebrated on 27 November. This tradition was begun by the Pilgrim pioneers as a harvest festival to give thanks for their new lives in America. Thanksgiving is celebrated with communal meals that emphasise family values.

The association also has an informal ‘meet and greet’ meeting on the second Thursday of each month. As of June 2016 The Australian-American Association in South Australia had 45 members.

The Australian-American Association holds an annual federal conference when representatives from each state meet in a capital city to discuss the activities of the past year, to plan activities for the coming year, and to formulate guidelines for the association’s future. The association also publishes a quarterly newsletter, a copy of which is placed in the State Library.

Traditionally the Governor of South Australia is invited to be Patron of the Australian-American Association.

Organisations and media

Australian-American Association in South Australia Inc., newsletter American Women’s Association


The 1996 census recorded 3,167 American South Australians, and a second generation of 2,123.

The 2001 census recorded 3,009 American-born South Australians, while 2,526 people said that they were of American descent, and 61 that they were of African American descent.

The 2006 census recorded 3,441 American-born South Australians, while 3,163 people said that they were of American descent, 109 said that they were of African American descent, 233 said that they were of Native North American Indian descent, and 10 people said that they were of Hawaiian descent.

The 2011 census recorded 4,030 American-born South Australians, while 3,480 people said that they were of American descent, 109 said that they were of African American descent, 19 said that they were of Hawaiian descent, 182 said that they were of Native North American Indian descent, and 60 indicated that they were of Northern American descent.

The 2016 census recorded 4,355 American-born South Australians, while 3,467 people said that they were of American descent.

By Migration Museum

This article is part of the From Many Places project documenting the diverse cultural groups in South Australia. It is a project started by the Migration Museum in 1992 and continued in partnership today. 

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Courtesy of/Photographer:Bit Scribbly Design

Migration Museum

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